A few weeks back, Jesse had the opportunity to visit the Moxvinquil Orchid Preserve in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. The sprawling preserve is a veritable cornucopia of epiphytic plant-life. Consisting of thousands upon thousands of rescued plants and over 600 species of tillandsia, bromeliads, orchids and ferns (and more), the preserve is half botanical garden and half mad-scientist plant propagation laboratory.
As the mountainous and heavily forested state of Chiapas, Mexico develops, epiphyte habits are threatened and destroyed. Over 20 years ago, Craig “Cisco” Dietz began rescuing epiphytes like air plants from branches of fallen trees and restoring them in his private garden. These clandestine plant rescue missions eventually became the Orchídeas Moxvinquil preserve, which has brought together specimens from all over the state, some of which only exist in the valleys where they were collected.
Cisco, who has no formal botanical training, has come up with creative and effective propagation and rescue techniques, using crude tools like copper wire, super glue, rope and a whole lot of patience to regenerate the natural habitat of the region.
Here’s a few fun facts about epiphytes that Jesse learned on his visit (this month’s “Meet the Maker”).
1) Tillandsia (aka “air plants”) are primarily pollinated by hummingbirds.
2) An air plant flower spike on a large specimen can take up to 2 years to produce. Plant of some species are 15-20 years old before flowering! After flowering, the “mother” plant dies, but offshoots (“pups”) often appear and grow at a much faster rate than the mother plant, as they’re feeding off of it for nutrients. Some of the most spectacular species (like the one with the pink flowers in the photo) don’t produce pups, though, which is why they’re particularly at risk.
3) Air plant seeds are tiny, and carried on a cotton-like webbing, much like a dandelion seed. The webbing is sticky, which allows them to easily attach to other trees. The seeds take a long time to germinate and the plants grow extremely slowly; in the wild, an air plant the size of your picky-nail could be 1-2 years old!
4) Some of our favorite potted plants, like Monstera deliciosa, Rhipsalis, Epiphylum and Philodendron selloum, live entirely epiphytic lives in this region. That means they grow entirely on trees, without any soil contact.
5) Orchids, Bromeliads, Tillandsia and ferns are often only found on the north side of trees. Why? The heat of the sun will scorch, burn and dry out these beauties during the dry season.
Here’s a few photos from the Moxvinquil Orchid Preserve. Be sure to visit if you find yourself in San Cristóbal!